Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Last-minute complaints threaten $2T coronavirus aid deal | What’s in the package | Pelosi scrambles to secure quick passage | Expanded testing shows signs of strain
Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care.
The Senate still doesn’t have a deal on the coronavirus stimulus bill, despite an overnight announcement. Joe Biden held a virtual briefing and warned against President Trump’s idea to have the country reopen for business by Easter. There are more coronavirus tests now, but that doesn’t mean that more people will be tested.
We’ll start with an update from the Senate
Last-minute complaints threaten $2T Senate coronavirus emergency aid
In the early hours of the morning, it seemed the Senate had a deal on a massive response package to the coronavirus. But objections from some GOP senators are now holding it up.
What’s the holdup? Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) raised concerns that the deal on unemployment benefits would “incentivize” individuals not to return to working.
The unemployment provision includes four months of bolstered unemployment benefits, including increasing the maximum unemployment benefit by $600.
But the GOP senators say that the agreement, which they are calling a “drafting error,” could prompt individuals who would make less working to leave their jobs, or not actively return to working.
Another complication, from the left: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) warned that unless the group of GOP senators back down from their demand for changes to the unemployment insurance benefits, he would slow walk the bill until stronger guardrails were put on hundreds of billions in funding for corporations.
Pelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democratic leaders meanwhile are pulling out all the stops to get their restive and diverse caucus behind a sweeping $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill and send it to the president’s desk as quickly as possible once they receive it from the Senate.
House Democrats have felt cut out of the process, exasperated that despite crafting their own $2.5 trillion emergency legislation, they’ve been denied the opportunity to exert more direct influence on the mammoth bill, the single largest stimulus package in the nation’s history.
With that in mind, Pelosi and her team are racing to bring them on board, which is the only way the House can pass the measure quickly using procedural tools that would preclude the need for lawmakers to return to Washington amid growing fears of traveling and gathering in close quarters.
Another potential obstacle … Republicans
McCarthy opposes unanimous consent on $2T coronavirus response
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he doesn’t believe the House should attempt to pass the Senate’s $2 trillion coronaviruses stimulus package via unanimous consent, arguing that it should be debated and members should be on the record with their votes.
“I know we’re in a very challenging time, I know we have members who are quarantined, members who are battling the virus, members in New York City who could not travel here without 14 days, but I don’t believe we should pass a $2 trillion package by unanimous consent,” he told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.
Leadership in both parties have weighed the possibility of attempting to pass the bill via unanimous consent, which would preclude the need for members to travel back to the Capitol.
But if just one lawmaker wants to object, it would prevent the bill’s passage under such rules.
So, what’s in the bill? (We’re glad you asked…)
The Hill’s Jordain Carney has seven things to know about the stimulus package. The Hill’s Niv Elis looks at how the bill’s business loan program, which devotes hundreds of billions of dollars to support loans to keep companies from failing and laying off employees, would work. And Naomi Jagoda has five questions (and answers) on the stimulus relief checks for Americans.
More from Congress
And at the White House today…
Trump charges media wants businesses closed to defeat him
President Trump on Wednesday accused the media of pushing to keep restrictions in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus — measures supported by most public health experts — in an effort to hamper the economy and harm his reelection chances.
“The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success,” Trump tweeted without citing specific outlets or evidence. “The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!”
The tweet marks yet another escalation in Trump’s bid to reframe the discussion about when to ease social distancing guidelines that have led to the closure of businesses across the country.
Read more: The Hill’s Niall Stanage on how Trump’s call to reopen the economy could be the biggest gamble of his presidency.
But hold on…
Kudlow: Trump’s goal to reopen economy by Easter is not ‘hard and fast’
President Trump’s goal to reopen businesses shuttered by the coronavirus by Easter – April 12 – is not “a hard and fast rule or target,” his top economic adviser said.
In a Wednesday interview with The Hill, White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Trump’s desire to restore normal commercial activity by Easter was “an aspirational target,” insisting that the president would not rush efforts to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic.
“We don’t want to destroy the economy. On the other hand, we’ve got to take care of the health and safety of all Americans,” Kudlow said in a phone interview Wednesday evening. “To me, the two should go together. They go hand in hand. Health safety; economic safety. Health security; economic security.”
More from the administration
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Expanded testing shows signs of strain
Health officials battling the coronavirus are making the difficult decision to limit testing in an effort to conserve critical resources, even as more test kits become available.
The balancing act means that despite an increase in drive-thru testing sites and point-of-care tests that deliver results in minutes, some of the hardest-hit areas are still restricting evaluations to health workers and the most vulnerable patients.
Prioritizing tests for the most vulnerable underscores the concern among health officials that coronavirus cases are already overwhelming the health system and draining resources that are in short supply.
Deciding who does and who doesn’t get a test has created a challenge for officials communicating with an increasingly concerned public. Even though the availability of tests has slowly increased, there still aren’t enough for everyone who wants one.
US asking allies for extra stockpiles to help fight coronavirus
The State Department is asking to purchase from other countries excess materials needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic, though President Trump has insisted the U.S. is well-equipped to handle the outbreak.
A senior State Department official in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday said the U.S. is asking countries if they have excess materials or excess capacity to manufacture key items needed to battle the spread of the virus.
The effort is an attempt to offset any supply chain issues, the official said, and deliver external suppliers and external sources to states and entities in the U.S. that are running low on supplies.
The Trump administration has sent conflicting signals about the supply of medical equipment domestically to help hospitals across the country address the virus.
Trump has insisted the United States is in a good position to acquire and distribute medical supplies because of cooperation from domestic firms.
In the states…
Louisiana governor warns New Orleans could run out of ventilators by early April
A looming problem in Louisiana and other states: a lack of life-saving ventilators.
New Orleans could run out of ventilators, which are needed to keep seriously ill patients infected with the coronavirus alive, by the first week in April, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) warned Wednesday.
“We could potentially run out of vents in the New Orleans area in the first week in April,” Edwards said at a press conference on Wednesday.
The alarming lack of ventilators, machines that allow seriously ill patients to breathe, is one of the top concerns across the country, though Louisiana’s timeline for running out of the machines is particularly short.
Not just Louisiana: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) rang a similar alarm on Tuesday, saying the state needs 30,000 more ventilators before the peak of the virus hits the state in about 14 days.
Like other governors, Cuomo is pressuring Trump to use his powers under the Defense Production Act to ramp up manufacturing of the crucial machines, which Trump has so far resisted. Instead the president is relying on voluntary pledges from companies to increase production.
16 state AGs urge Trump to use defense law to obtain critical coronavirus supplies
Pressure continues to build on President Trump to use the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of critical masks, ventilators and more.
The latest move: A group of 16 attorneys general wrote to Trump.
“We are on the brink of catastrophic consequences resulting from the continued shortage of critical supplies,” the letter states. “The federal government must act decisively now and use its sweeping authority to get as many needed supplies produced as soon as possible for distribution as quickly as possible.”
The group of attorneys general, largely from blue states, pointed to widespread reports of health care workers on the front lines warning of dangerously low supplies of masks, gowns and other protective equipment.
More from the The Hill’s state coverage:
On the campaign trail
Former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday said it’s time for the Democratic primary to draw to a close and signaled a disinterest in participating in a final debate against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“My focus is just dealing with this crisis right now,” Biden said at a virtual press conference.
More coronavirus news
And some uplifting news
What we’re reading
Why hoarding of hydroxychloroquine needs to stop (Kaiser Health News)
Rule barring immigrants from social programs risks worsening coronavirus spread (Wall Street Journal)
Hospitals consider universal do-not-resuscitate orders for coronavirus patients (Washington Post)
Immigrant doctors want to help the Army fight the coronavirus. The Pentagon won’t let them (Washington Post)
Virus likely curtailed China drug output, raising shortage fears (Bloomberg)
State by state
13 deaths in a day: An ‘apocalyptic’ coronavirus surge at an NYC hospital (The New York Times)
Maryland school closures extended a month due to coronavirus threat (Baltimore Sun)
California lawmakers struggle to conduct business amid COVID-19 lockdown (Kaiser Health News)
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